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Hot Effects

Josh Ellsworth

Josh is the VP of sales, dealer channel for Stahls'. He deals in the sales and implementation of heat-applied, apparel-decorating systems with a focus on customization. He holds skills in the production, sale, and marketing of customized apparel. He presents seminars at trade shows and contributes articles to trade publications, like Printwear magazine.

Buyers of decorated apparel want more—they’re looking for more colors, odd placements, fewer pieces at a lower price and they want to see something special. Take a walk through a mall or even a tour of online apparel stores. The trends vary per market but all of them have a common thread—buyers want something different. Simply put, they want effects. Those offering heat-applied graphics can give it to them, and it doesn’t even have to be hard. Let’s explore some of the special-effect options that can be achieved with a heat press.

All that glitters

Glitter is by far one of the most popular special effects for apparel, so naturally there are plenty of choices available to achieve this finish. Heat-transfer film that can be cut with a vinyl cutter boasts a range of glitter options. There are two basic types—a smooth and a textured glitter. With smooth glitter, the finish features small pieces of glitter that are actually encapsulated inside of the base color. The glitter flecks are usually silver or gold and accent the base color of the film.

In contrast, the textured glitters have a tactile element that gives them a rough hand, created through the thousands of tiny pieces of glitter that comprise the material. A textured glitter product will pop a lot more than its smooth counterpart, making this an extremely popular option for spirit wear as well as for retail-oriented fashion styles. A supplier typically carries only one type of textured glitter in a variety of colors. A comparison across brands will reveal that the actual pieces of glitter are in varying sizes, almost like a grit level with sand paper.

If you are looking to move past single-color graphics with glitter, your choice may be digital print/cut media that can be printed with a solvent-based printer. But, in order for the ink to lay down properly on this media, it can only be done in the smooth glitter finish. The beauty of the product is that it starts with a white-base film with silver or gold glitter and the color turns glittery as it is printed from your output device. Remember, digital print/cut media is only compatible with solvent and eco-solvent based printers and does need to be cut after printing. 

Finally, big glitter jobs may be better fulfilled by ordering a screen printed glitter transfer. There are a multitude of options within this category for glitters—though they almost always are offered in a textured finish—and often suppliers will be able to sample them. This option also makes this type of decoration service available to those that don’t own a vinyl cutter or printer.

Heavy metal

Foil is another effect that is extremely popular and is available in a couple different finishes as well. Metallic foils offer a true metal-like appearance; the silver color has that distinct chrome finish. Another type, hologram or sparkle foil, has a sparkle-like finish.

The process for ordering a screen-printed transfer to achieve a foil effect is very similar to that of actual screen printing. The transfer will arrive as an adhesive along with a foil overlay sheet. Heat press the adhesive transfer to the garment, then overlay the foil and press it on. After the design cools, peel away the foil sheet and the foil sticks only to the adhesive on the garment. 

If you want to achieve a foil or metallic print with heat-transfer film, it’s ultra simple. Suppliers stock foil and metallic transfer film in a multitude of color choices. No extra steps with this process—simply cut, weed and press it on. 

Choices for foil are not quite developed for digital print/cut media, but a metallic silver base material for this process is comparative to foil. Similar to glitter media, when the ink is printed, the color turns metallic. This can then be cut, weeded, masked and heat applied to a garment.

Deep reflections

Reflective material is a unique special effect finish that will open the door to new business. Most decorators who take the time to use reflective materials and learn how to sell them usually do quite a nice volume in business. Opportunities abound with police, fire, EMS, and security personnel as well as for roadside work crews, children, runners, bikers or any other target market that benefits from high-visibility embellishment. When dealing with reflectives, all three decorating choices apply. 

For single-color, low-quantity jobs or personalization, heat-transfer film makes sense. For mid-size runs, order screen-printed transfers and for full-color reflective jobs, use digital print/cut media. Certain reflective options meet ANSI requirements for high visibility; a certification that is required when selling to some of the aforementioned customers.

A flock of options

Flock is growing into a popular finish. Anyone who has ever screen printed flock onto apparel would welcome the workflow utilizing heat applied graphics. Flock is available in lots of color choices and the pile and density of the flock fibers range. As with any of the other effects, choose the heat-applied graphics technology that makes sense for your art type and order quantity. Flock finishes are particularly popular for lettering in sports such as soccer or for unique multimedia effects for fashion apparel. 

Puff is a finish not to be left behind, an effect that has gained notoriety over the years as the decoration of choice for T-shirts in almost any souvenir shop located near a beach. Puff transfers are still used for T-shirts, especially for kids. Puff has recently made its way into heat-applied films as well as print/cut media. The trick when dealing with any puff is to achieve enough heat and pressure to make the material puff enough for the desired result.

Glow-in-the-dark is another specialty effect. The finished result with any glow transfer usually has a lime or off-white finish in the daylight and glows green in the dark. Glow heat-applied films are available by the yard for cutting and glow transfers can be ordered as well. 

These effects highlight some of the most popular styles that are at our disposal in this industry. If you want to go completely out of the box consider other effects such as rhinestones, studs, nailheads, sequins and special-effect appliqués, all of which can be ordered to heat apply. Or, for a completely unique look, consider combining various special effects. Keep an open mind, experiment and commit to learn and uncover new, exciting sales opportunities with heat applied special effects that can help to grow your business.